CHICAGO – In what was almost a complete 180-degree turnaround from opening half against Gonzaga, the Vandals women’s basketball team established complete dominance in the first half against Mount St. Mary’s. The Vandals kept the pressure on the Mountaineers in the second half en route to an 81-63 victory Friday night at the Gentile Arena.
Idaho (1-1, 0-0 WAC) led by ten at the half, 37-27, in thanks to a 12-0 run over a three-minute span midway through the first half. The Vandals were grades above when it came to first half shooting compared to the Gonzaga game. In Spokane, Idaho was 4-of-29 (.138) from the field. Tonight, the Vandals opened the first half 10-of-33 (.303) and were 5-of-20 (.250) from beyond the arch.
The Vandals kept on the Mountaineers in the second half, extending their lead to 22 points with 5:46 to play in the game. The Vandals hit 15-of-33 (.455) shots in the second period of play and added seven more three-point baskets.
“I was really happy with our effort,” head coach Jon Newlee said following the win. “I thought we came out with a lot of energy tonight and got off to that good start. We were really pushing the pace like we wanted to. I loved our start and we talked at halftime about keeping the lead and expanding on it. I thought we did a good job of that in the second half.
A number of Vandals had career nights on Friday. Sophomore guard Connie Ballestero set a new career high with 17 points. In the first half alone, Ballestero set a new career game-high making four three-point field goals, finishing the night with 5-of-9.
Senior Alyssa Charlston recorded her 20th-career double-double, finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds in just 26 minutes of play. Charlston has opened up the 2013-14 season a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line, hitting all three of her freebies on Friday.
“I though Alyssa could really do some damage inside tonight,” Newlee stated. “They were not nearly as big as the ‘Zags inside. When she goes up against somebody her size or a little bit bigger she has great moves inside and she was then able to step out and hit a couple of three’s and loosen up the defense a little more. They had no answer for Alyssa Charlston tonight.”
The Vandals are without sophomore Ali Forde and her 7.3 rebounds per game this weekend as she travels with the volleyball team. Without Forde in the lineup the Vandals focused on getting to the rebounds and successfully outrebounded the Mountaineers, 43-33. Filling in for Forde down low was the tandem of junior Maren Austgulen and freshman Brooke Reilly. The two players combined for 12 rebounds, including a new career-game best for Austgulen (7).
Idaho’s 81 points on Friday was a mark the Vandals only reached three times last season. The team last reached the 80-point plateau in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, scoring 84 against Utah State. Idaho finished the contest shooting 21-of-59 (.356) and 10-of-34 (.294) from three-point range. Idaho dominated in the paint, outscoring MSM, 26-14, and led 12-2 in second-chance points.
“After we lost to Gonzaga we were like ‘Okay now we are looking for win now,’ and we know we are good enough to get one,” Charlston said. “We just had to figure out what we needed to improve and keep the same intensity we had against Gonzaga. We had contributions from everyone.”
Mount St. Mary’s (0-3, 0-0 NEC) was led by Sydney Henderson and her 20 points and nine rebounds. The leading scorer for the Mountaineers was held to only five points in the first half.
Junior Stacey Barr added nine points and five rebounds for the Vandals in just 21 minutes of play. She had to leave the game in the second half after limping off the court. Freshman Karlee Wilson saw her first significant playing time, recording seven points and two assists. Sophomore Christina Salvatore was 4-of-9 from three-point range, totaling 12 points and matching her career high with nine rebounds.
The Vandals will take the court again on Saturday, wrapping up Preseason WNIT play against either Loyola Chicago at 4:30 p.m. PT or IPFW at 7:00 p.m.
NOTES: Idaho had four players score in double-digits for the first time this season. They last met that mark in the WAC Championship game against Seattle U…The last time Idaho defeated an opponent by more than 15 points was as 72-53 win against New Mexico State (2/7/13)…Charlston’s 11 rebounds now gives her 639 (8th all-time)...With two three-pointers tonight Charlston has now made at least one basket from beyond the arc in five straight games…Ballestero has gotten the starting nod in 31 consecutive games.